At the beginning of the year, our chapter’s executive board sat down with our Advisor to plan out what events we wanted to hold for the year. One event we quickly became passionate about holding was a career panel to highlight the many careers open to those majoring in English. The English department at our school is rather small, and we often don’t have the opportunity to showcase all the amazing things being done by professors, alumni, and others in the English field. Unfortunately, due to the fact our chapter hadn’t been especially active on campus in previous years, we were unable to secure the funds needed to hold large scale events such as this panel we had in mind.
When we received grant funding from Sigma Tau Delta to hold our event, we immediately started contacting panelists in order to have a diverse turnout. In the end, our four distinguished panelists were University alumni Christina Tomarelli, a Project Manager of Global Technology at NASDAQ; Katie Edwards, a Content Marketing Specialist at WorkStride; Dr. Jenna Sheffield, the Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Coordinator of Writing Across the Curriculum here at the University of New Haven; and finally, British Literature and Theology Teacher Christina Ramos. All four of these individuals gave diverse educational and career backgrounds, and offered advice to the attending students, which attracted English majors as well as other majors.
The event began with each panelist identifying what she concentrated on in her English studies and what position she is in currently. Then the presenters discussed how they leveraged and presented their English studies to acquire positions. Christina Tomarelli remarked, “The language of English studies—how to solve problems, think critically, and manage people—is a language you can take everywhere and is the basis for all jobs.” Panelist Katie Edwards noted, “Even if you aren’t doing much writing at first, you can fit English into positions by being the one person who can communicate well.” She told the story of her rise from a customer relations position to a content marketing specialist role from a gap she noted in what one company was doing. She recommended starting a professional blog to build a portfolio. Christina Ramos, who is pursuing a Master’s in Teaching, suggested “going into your first position with a listening and learning attitude.” The panelists responded to questions with candor—especially about what ends up really mattering from the college years: internships, work outside of school, and diverse interests and hobbies. After answering questions, panelists had lunch with students in the audience to make individual connections. One audience member commented, “this experience gave me so many new avenues to explore and ways to think about my degree.”
This event was a significant turning point for our chapter to recruit more active members as well as establish a larger presence on campus. In addition, the event highlighted exactly what we originally intended it to: the many career opportunities available to English majors after completing their undergraduate coursework. The panelists encouraged students to take on positions slightly outside their comfort zones in order to learn more about different fields and diversify their interests and experiences. This insightful advice really encompassed everything we tried to capture in the panel, and we were thrilled with the results. Now, our graduating students are already talking about coming back to share their “first-year-out” stories.
We are planning to do this event annually with some revision to our approach that other chapters might be interested in learning about. With more planning, we would like to diversify our panel by finding participants who are in a range of positions. Since our program is struggling to establish the value of literature, we would like to incorporate a panelist who does video game storytelling or has pursued a career that involves the use of literature more directly. The strategy we used to reach out to participants involved the use of our Advisor’s LinkedIn connections. With more time and planning, we would involve the members more to see what contacts they and other department faculty have. Since funding presented difficulties, an important revision to our approach will be how we leverage the value of this event to earn funding from campus resources, so we are hoping our department and other administrative units contribute funding. With this revised approach and the enthusiasm of our chapter’s members, we plan to make this panel an annual event and to have a complementary event, a panel on the experiences in graduate school.